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The Spiral Staircase


Jacqueline Bisset is one of the most alluring film actresses of the late sixties and seventies. Any teenager of the day only must think back to “Bullitt”, “Airport” or “The Deep” to fall right back under her spell. Even HER screen presence can’t help the poorly made and silly 1975 non-thriller THE SPIRAL STARICASE.

Bisset plays Helen, a young woman incapable of speech since losing her family in a tragic fire. She’s trying to find her voice again with the help of her lover Dr Rawley. Since Rawley is dubbed horribly and overacted by John Ronane, I’m not sure he’s who I’d go to for speech therapy, but I digress.

Dr. Rawley has his hands full as the medical examiner working with Lt. Fields, a hair-trigger detective looking for a serial killer that’s targeting women with disabilities. Sam Wanamaker (Death on the Nile) is usually a fine character actor, but here he’s all over the map and more unhinged than the killer. It’s a bizarre performance.

Christopher Plummer is a long way from Captain Von Trapp as Dr. Sherman, the main doctor at a sprawling clinic helping Helen find her voice. Helen finds herself trapped in Sherman’s sprawling mansion as the serial killer lurks outside. The story mechanics are so sloppy that I couldn’t figure out how they got there, which immediately gave me way too many clues on who the killer is.

John Phillip Law (Barbarella, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) is Sherman’s younger brother, Steven. Arrogant and unfiltered, at least he brings some life to the suspects. Gayle Hunnicutt (The Legend of Hell House) is the doctor’s assistant with a wondering eye and Elaine Stritch out acts them all as the Nurse assigned to take care of Sherman’s aging mother. Stritch throws out zingers and verbal attacks like she’s in a much better film. She deserves one and so does Bisset.

A better director could have made Helen’s story compelling, I’m thinking about “Wait Until Dark” as a great example. But the filmmakers here neuter any chance for Bisset to explore nuance and it sinks the film, as does the bad direction, poor construction, and amateurish editing.

There’s more than one spiral staircase in this shitshow. Unfortunately, all of them wind downward into the slop. SPIRAL STAIRCASE gets an F.

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